In this March-April 2013 issue, which Futuribles is devoting very largely to the social and political impact of religions, Jean-François Mayer looks at the concept of fundamentalism. The notion, though widely used in very varying contexts –not to say loosely used and misused– has nonetheless a very precise meaning in the world of religion, as this article demonstrates.
After recalling the emergence of fundamentalism in the USA within the Protestant community and that movement’s entry into politics, Jean-François Mayer goes on to analyse the extent to which the concept has spread to other religious groups and what it refers to in those cases. Among other things, he highlights the fundamentalists’ fear of seeing the values they advocate threatened, points up certain developments in modern society which they regard as deviant (abortion rights, tolerance of homosexuals, the detachment of certain political forces from religion etc.) and underscores the fundamentalists’ frequent evocation of an idealized past of their particular strand of religion etc. He particularly stresses the great diversity of groups that can be placed in this category, and of the contexts in which they operate and, as a result, of the political practices which they adopt.
Drawing on the comparative analyses on which his study is based, Jean-François Mayer proposes a new typology that is capable of dividing the different forms of fundamentalism into four separate categories: transformational, reforming, restorative and conservative protest movements. Lastly, he examines the effects of the fundamentalisms on the societies in which they are established: this includes the danger of the denigration of minority groups and a variable level of political impact, depending on contexts and on the religion concerned.